Wanting to make my birthday special, I clamored for something—anything—remotely interesting playing at my local cinema. Watching Kubo and the Two Strings last year for my twenty-third birthday, I harbored the desire to turn this, as I do with many other personal events, into a bonafide tradition. Yet, in response to my child-like enthusiasm, the cinema cruelly gave me choices ranging from Superhero movies #435-437, The Emoji Movie, The Nut Job 2, and The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Only two choices stood out: Logan Lucky and Detroit, however Detroit had only one showing at 9:20 P.M. Thinking with my wallet and my convenience, Logan Lucky had the “honor” of being this year’s birthday movie. Was the money and coziness well spent? Yes and no.
What director Steven Soderbergh is most known for in his career is the Ocean’s series of heist films—his bread and butter, so to speak. Logan Lucky is by all accounts a heist film, and does little to seclude itself from the meticulous preparation and motivation needed to make such a film work (and not work). While I have little experience with the Ocean’s series or heist films in general, I’ve seen the niche genre parodied in other visual media. Though the manner in which I criticize this film is based almost entirely on logic, there are things present that those familiar with Soderbergh’s fingerprints are sure to either tip their hats to or throw their hats at.
With the blueprints firmly imprinted, the name of the game is characters. How do these characters involve themselves in something as grand as a heist and why? Watching a plan unfold is nice enough, but the characters and what they’re “fighting for” makes the syrup for the cakes. Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, a good ol’ boy from West Virginia who’s down on his luck in life. Divorced, trying to raise a single daughter while also instilling the good morals of society unto her, and isn’t well off financially. Things finally boil over when he’s fired from his blue collar construction job and his ex-wife announces the family is moving away to expand her current husband’s business, taking Jimmy’s daughter with her. With nothing left to hope for, he hatches the idea to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway with his brother, played by Adam Driver, and a hometown havoc-maker named Joe Bang, played by Daniel Craig.
Throughout the film, characters repeatedly state that they’re “done with” their days of immoral mischief. Jimmy, his brother, Joe, Joe’s brothers; every cast member seems to have a mean streak to them that they’re willing to cast aside to start anew. Some seem more likely to abide to it than others, yet this creates a situation where the audience can empathize and cheer for these characters and their heist, as they’re under the impression they’re doing it for some “greater good.” Again, some feel more loaded with their ambitions than others, but the mother hen of the group, Jimmy, is constantly shown to be the “better” of the people around him, even if his situation doesn’t show it. If all of these characters were simply robbing speedways for the sake of it, there wouldn’t be any emotional attachment achieved through their struggles, and would likely become flatter as characters because of it. With the inclusion of the film’s almost bloated amount of set-up, the payoff feels like a win for not just the mission, but for the humanity of the characters involved.
Somewhat bittersweet of a strength to this film is the symbolism it presents through its cast of characters and their situations. Bitter because there isn’t much weight to it by the end, as well as how forced it feels at times, but sweet that it allowed for some snark to the writing and humor of the film. Them country folk layin’ ’round the yard, fixin’ them trucks and spittin’ e’ry minute end up being the most intelligent of their peers. As said before, Jimmy is constantly shown in a better light than his peers, especially Seth MacFarlane’s character and his ex-wife’s current husband. Reversing expectations is a common method of intrigue and humor that Logan Lucky plays with throughout, most notably through trivial interaction. Jimmy’s ex-wife’s current husband, Moody, is a city slicker disguised as a hometown boy, with his wealth, and ignorance of morality and common “Country” knowledge on display in contrast to Jimmy’s persona. His children are spoiled rotten and crass, and he is often teased for not fitting in with the crowd. This persistence creates a noticeable divide between old and new, diligence and convenience, that paints the image of who these characters are and what they mean to the film’s whole. One thing it is not is subtle, but better for comedy than a serious think piece.
Logan Lucky’s major drawback is that its writing is not as clever as it thinks it is. Parading as smart when it’s really only passable; hilarious when it’s really only humorous. When one really begins to think about the heist and the steps taken to ensure the entire thing works step-by-step is probably more hilarious than any joke the film attempts to make. Many will argue the value of “coincidences” in visual media in terms of progression of a particular aspect, whether it be romance, friendship, or master plans, in this case. One or two are likely to be shrugged off, depending on how major or minor, for the sake of the illusion of reality presented in cinematography. This piece, this heist, however, is so clamored with coincidences and “How would anyone know it would turn out this exact way?” that it comes across as overindulgent in its specificity. Leaving the viewer in the dark as to what the plan entails allows each answer to come through naturally, yet also allows whatever mishap to seem like just another part of the plan. There’s also a joke about how Jimmy is kind of a genius, yet can only secure jobs at places like Lowe’s. Such is life’s unforgiving grip.
Of the characters, very few of them end up being entirely endearing. In fact, close to every character only seems to be along for the ride, with a few only showing up for the sake of becoming important(-ish) later on. It’s what I like to refer to as “Marking the checklist,” where a story introduces various elements for the sake of seeming as though it actually cares, when it doesn’t. For example, Jimmy’s high school sweetheart randomly comes into town and rekindles the spark between them. She is never brought up before this and is shown in two instances afterwards, both near the very end. Her character is a throwaway character that only showed up for the sake of giving Jimmy a romantic interest in the end. Such is the case for many other characters, like Jimmy’s ex-wife, and to some extent even his daughter. There is a touch of artificiality that hampers the empathetic response of the film’s core messages and realism. The two characters that escape from this are the characters who feel the most real and receive a bulk of the development: Jimmy and Joe. Though, it helps when Tatum and Craig were both spectacular in their roles.
Dumb fun, with a pinch of symbolic intrigue. Not something I would willingly recommend as a lasting experience, but something that knows what it’s doing and knows how to entertain, at the cost of its realistic virtues. I gained a lot of respect for Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig as actors from this picture—standalone as they were compared to the rest of the cast. As a birthday film, I’m not disappointed. As a film in general, it’s something of a mixed bag. Fortunately, containing more gems than stones.
Final Score: 6.5/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.